Jumoke Anifowose is a gubernatorial aspirant in the All Progressives Congress in Ondo State. In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, ahead of the August 27 party primaries, the daughter of the first civilian governor of the state (Adekunle Ajasin) talks about her chances, her visions for the state, and the party politics.
PT: You are a gubernatorial aspirant in your party, the All Progressives Congress, what will you do differently if you succeed?
Anifowose: The way government is being run now has deviated markedly from what used to be and I intend to correct that. Government is now run like a personal estate of the governor. People are not carried along in the affairs of governance. The governor of my state of Ondo in particular is more terrible, having failed to deliver on all the promises he made to Ondo State people.
Without the bailout fund from the federal government, maybe by now, Ondo State civil servants would be dying of hunger and annihilation. We all know that salaries of civil servants have multiplier effect in the economy of the state. When not paid, everybody is in trouble – even the private schools, traders, and farmers feel it because all goods and services are rendered on credit. The governor promised to cry when the people are crying but he has shown no sympathy. I will not be that kind of governor.
With the situation in Nigeria’s revenue now, anybody that wants to govern a state must have a plan to pay salaries because government is still the biggest spender in our economy. Salaries must be paid when due and I will prioritise that. I will not even owe up to three months at a stretch.
PT: So how do you intend to shore up the state revenue to complement federal allocation?
Anifowose: We do not have industries in Ondo State and that is a reason to start establishing viable ones. All the industries established by the UPN government in the Second Republic are all moribund. Oluwa Glass Industry, Cocoa Industry in Ile-Oluji, Aluminium Company in Ondo town, Ifon Ceramic Industry, the Paper Industry at Ikare etc are there lying fallow.
If I become the governor of Ondo State, I will not only revive these industries, I will establish more to ensure the right balance between public and private sector investments. There is no magic wand to doing this other than the commitment and political will required. I suppose the current governor did not do that in order to keep the populace perpetually dependent on government largesse and thereby corrupt their sense of citizenship.
Once you have a growing private sector investment, particularly in industrialisation, you can then turn to properties. I will ensure that all properties are numbered and valued. This will benefit the people who can use them as capitals and also benefit the government through tenement rates.
Till today, there is no standard for collecting public revenues in Ondo State leading to too many leakages in the system. For instance, for the signage fee, experience of residents is that the fee changes almost on daily basis. No standard. I will ensure, if I become the governor, all rates are standardised and are paid into the banks. We will then be able to do realistic projections based on expected revenues.
The information regarding Dangote Group of Companies’ investment in Lagos is that the projects should have been sited in Olokola Free Trade Zone in Ondo State. The proposal started under Dr. Olusegun Agagu but for reasons best known to the current governor, the proposals were not followed up and the investors left. Imagine if that project is in Ondo State. The construction alone will have big impact on the economy of the state not to talk of when the projects become operational with a sea port, Liquefied Natural Gas etc. That investment can generate at least 40,000 jobs and this is why I said the current governor refused to industrialise the state to keep the people dependent on government. That does not show a kind-hearted man and I will not be that kind of governor. Once a project is for progress and development, I will not abandon it because it was started by my predecessor. That will be selfish. Leaving Olokola Free Trade Zone to rot does not speak well of the current governor.
PT: Don’t you think those moribund industries are not revived by the current administration because they are not viable?
Anifowose: I believe they are very viable. We use glass every day for so many things, so one cannot say the Oluwa Glass Industry is not viable particularly when the raw material is at the backyard. The current administration simply just has not tried enough to revive it. The market is there.
Even if you do not want the company to continue as Oluwa Glass Industry, you can incorporate a new company and run it on a PPP model. So, I don’t see any reason why the current administration cannot invite investors to revive those industries.
PT: Nigerians now know politicians to doublespeak, promising one thing and implementing something else when elected. So why should the people believe you?
Anifowose: I have a pedigree that is known for keeping promises. I do not renege on my promises. I have been the party chairman of ACN in Ondo State and those who worked with me will tell anybody that my word is my bond. It is possible the promise is delayed – and for which I have to give reasonable explanations – but the promise would still be fulfilled.
You may get into office and find that what you think could be done in three months will take six months. It is left for you to go back to the people and apologise and then set a new realistic date.
PT: There are more than 30 people who have expressed intention to contest the APC primaries, what do you think are your chances?
Anifowose: First, not all of those who have expressed interest have picked up the party’s form both at the state and national level. So we cannot say how many aspirants we have until the deadline has elapsed. On my chances, I consider that I have a very bright chance to fly the party’s flag as its candidate. I am the only female among them and I consider that as a plus for me. Also, I am the only one, among all the aspirants, who has led the party as chairman before.
At that time, I was the leader of opposition in Ondo State. At the time I took over as the ACN chairman in the state, the morale of party members was very low. But with God’s help and cooperation of my colleagues, we were able to lift the party up and this showed in its increased membership. ACN became a forceful opposition and the arrowhead of the merger that produced the APC. That achievement is still being commended till today in the state and by the party leaders.
I was not just an arm-chair leader. I was on the road night and day meeting members that have defected to come back. The reception was amazing and we even had people join us from the ruling party in the state. Some of those who joined us then are now occupying political leadership positions. I am happy that they are enjoying the fruit of my labour and I am sure there is no reason why they should not also allow me to enjoy the fruit of my labour, having served the party meritoriously. So, I believe my strength of character and leadership experience will contribute to my chances.
PT: Being the only female aspirant, does female leadership in some of the most powerful countries in the world inspire you?
Anifowose: Not only does it inspire me, it helps me to convince those who thought that position should not be occupied by female. But happenings around the world now that the next UN Secretary-General would be a woman, that the world power USA may be led by a woman, that Theresa May, a woman, has taken over from David Cameron in the UK, convinced me that a woman can lead Ondo State. And this has inspired Ondo State delegates too. Sirleaf Johnson became Liberia’s President at the end of a bloody civil war and apart from the Ebola humanitarian crisis, she has done well to ensure political stability and revive the country’s economy. I therefore hope that the people of Ondo State, particularly the APC delegates would count me worthy and give me a try. Women do not have the kind of baggage that men have and are therefore more focused on governance. Nigeria’s president is a man and if I become the governor, he will listen to me better than others as the only female governor. That is a plus for me and for the state also.
PT: Last year, you warned against imposition of candidate in an interview, do you still have that fear?
I think the party leadership has learnt its lesson that imposition is not the best and bears no good fruit. And we can see that in other states where elections have held that imposition is no longer there. It is delegates’ election and aspirants only have to appeal to the delegates. So delegates have to be sensitised on the need to consider the interest of the state and the party, and not immediate personal gains, in order to vote rightly.
PT: But what about party leaders favouring a particular candidate?
Anifowose: Well, the party leaders know that if there is suspicion and doubt that there is no level playing field, it will adversely affect the party. So the leaders should not show favouritism and should just allow the aspirants to appeal to the delegates to vote for somebody that is coming to develop the state. We have been reading a lot about corruption and the danger it poses to development and progress. Therefore, both the party leaders and delegates should consider the background of aspirants. If our state has to be developed and opportunities provided for the people to progress, the pedigree of some of us has to be taken into account. Somebody that will not pinch the treasury of the state should be voted for to ensure rapid fulfilment of party’s manifesto and development objectives.
Ondo state is deficient more than other states that boast of less revenues and resources. So many things are wrong in the state to the extent that it is becoming known for so many antisocial behaviours and tendencies. Therefore, the state needs a governor that will completely and transparently commit public revenues to developmental objectives.
PT: You have said many things that are wrong in Ondo State, but the APC in the state is also having challenges. Recently a party official was suspended and there are other issues. Don’t you think this will affect the party’s chances in an election?
Anifowose: I want to say that luckily we have a party chairman who knows his onions, who is firm and at the same time fair. Hon. Kekemeke is a party chairman I will say is genuinely interested in winning the governorship seat for the party.
So, whatever is happening is an internal affair of the party executives and as an aspirant, I do not have the details and cannot comment on it. But I know the chairman can be trusted to handle the matter and pilot the party’s affair to victory in the November gubernatorial election.
PT: If the party leaders should come up with a proposal for a consensus candidate, will you agree to that?
Anifowose: Really, I would say it depends on the criteria for arriving at such candidacy. If the consensus candidate is someone I know is coming to steal, I will tell the leadership that I cannot be a part of that arrangement.
PT: What is your perception of corruption at state level because in Nigeria, it appears only the Federal Government is fighting corruption?
Anifowose: I think the corruption at state level is within the purview of the citizens. The reason it appears only the Federal Government is fighting corruption is because it is too remote from the people. So, corruption will fester in the state to the extent that citizens allow it.
Would I be a corrupt governor and still be talking about my corrupt practices? No. It is left to the citizens to put the government on its toes. If the citizens are not complaining and reporting corrupt practices to relevant agencies, is it the governor that will do that? The citizens must play that role of demanding accountability from their political leaders.
PT: But citizens rarely have level access needed to demand transparency in government. Most states do not publish their budgets.
Anifowose: Well I will say the citizens are not trying enough. If I want to play my role as a governor, the citizens must also be ready to play their roles. We have the Freedom of Information Act that has not been utilised optimally by the citizens.
We have to get over this tendency to sit down and be spoon-fed. Citizens must actively engage their leaders. If eventually I am elected as the governor of Ondo State, I will distribute the FoI in local dialects and ensure it is broadcast in order to empower the citizens to play their roles because governors are not only to blame. Government officials are sometimes deliberately negligent and corrupt too. You write a letter that contains all your contact details to a government agency and the official does not see the need to reply you after three months.
It is these unwholesome rot in our public sector that drive some of us to want to change and turn things around. I want to be there and see why it is difficult to run governance in an effective, responsive and efficient manner that we see in other climes.
PT: What do you think about the current debate on immunity for public office holders?
I think the immunity that is being enjoyed now should be left as it is. They can always be prosecuted after their tenure. But I don’t think immunity should be extended to others.
PT: But if there is a case against a governor, for instance, and it has to wait till after eight years, it may not be possible to assemble the same witnesses again.
Anifowose: There are documentary evidences that can be admitted.
PT: The philosophy of governance during your late dad’s era was “freedom for all, life more abundant”. Is that still your philosophy?
Anifowose: Yes. That philosophy is an age-long philosophy that cannot be discarded. What more can citizens ask for? It is a philosophy that we will live with till eternity.
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